The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Turn off the lights and wrap up warm, it’s bedtime – during the NIGHT OF THE NECROMANCER!
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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This is the last of the newer FF books that I’ve picked up. Written only a few years ago by Jonathan Green, this was the most recent FF book until Blood of the Zombies came out. I still struggle to consider the Wizard Publishing books as ‘true’ Fighting Fantasy ones, even though there’s several that are just simply fantastic books, and I’m sure that this one will be no exception.
As I return home from a long crusade against the forces of evil and darkness, I am waylaid by assassins. Among their number is a cultist of Death, who fires a spell upon me. The spell kills me instantly.
So, what did I think of this book? Well, it was short. Overall I’d give it a seven out of ten, and… Oh wait, I’m not quite dead.
My undead soul has been ripped from my body, becoming a wraith-like spirit of vengeance. I fight the cultist, showing him the fury of the un-living. He tries to banish me, but I resist too strongly and he escapes before I have the chance to beat information from him. I don’t know who it was that ordered my death, but it’s my goal to find out.
The site of my murder is a set of standing stones, called the Nine Sisters. In the ethereal light of the moon, the spirits of the stones elect me as their champion, fusing me with ancient power. This raises my stats somewhat, which is rather nice as I’m unsure quite how dying would affect my stamina score. No, seriously. This is something of a mystery to me at this stage. As I receive the power from the standing stones, I find a portal which seems to lead off into the realms of the dead.
I step through the portal, and find myself in what I assume to be some kind of nexus of the spirit world. Up ahead is what I can only describe as a doorway to hell (or more accurately, the hereafter). I feel vaguely drawn towards it, but I’m strong enough to resist it. I emerge from the portal with a new codeword, as my Will score is sufficiently high enough that I do not get drawn into the hereafter. Returning back to the earthly realm, I decide that it’s high time I stop faffing around with ethereal ghostly energies and go talk to someone who can help me with my current problem.
Remembering the stories of an old woman who lives in the Wraith Woods not too far from here, I decide to make my way over there and speak to her. As I stumble through the woods though, I am beset by the terrible Baron Blood, the spectral huntsman, and his hunting party. I try to hide in the undergrowth, but his hounds manage to drag me out of the shrubbery, kicking and screaming.
Blood gives me an ultimatum – he wants to have some sport, so asks me to run to a nearby tree before his dogs can catch me. If I get to it, he’ll leave me alone. So, I start running. So do the dogs. They run faster. They catch me and use me as a play-toy. Then Mister Blood takes my soul off with him, and I awake back in the realm of the dead. It’s pretty clear that I’m going to wind up here each time that I ‘die’ in this adventure. This time, that big doorway I mentioned earlier that’s trying to draw me into the hereafter? Well, there’s things in it. Bad things. Things I have to kill. It’s called a Sin Eater. And it looks like bad nightmares.
I manage to kill the thing, rather more easily than I had anticipated, and claw my way back out of the realm of the dead and into the woods once again. It isn’t long until I’m able to find the hut of the Wise Woman. Now, there’s three things you need to know about the Wise Woman. The first is that she’s a Woman. The second is that I think I’ve made this joke before. The third is that, when she offers to summon a powerful netherworld imp that will answer the questions about who ordered my murder, the imp states that he cannot say as he is bound by another power before he rips the old woman’s throat out and tries to kill me.
Wiping some demonic imp blood off my ghost-sword, I head off to the village of Sleath instead. The route to the town passes through a graveyard, and the spirits of the dead ask me to aid them. It seems that they are being bothered by a Grave Golem (like a Clay Golem or a Flesh Golem, but it’s made out of Graves). One thing I’ll say about Jonathan Green’s books, they’re full of imaginative monsters.
I’m making pretty good progress when I get to Sleath. Upon entering the town, I’m attacked by the external personification of the town’s nightmares – a vivid cloud of billowing insanity called a Phantasmagoria. Actually reminds me something of one of the monsters that I fought in Black Vein Prophecy. Which in turn reminds me of the Angels from Evangelion, which in turn reminds me of the Colour Out Of Space, which in turn reminds me of fractals, which in turn… anyway, I kill it.
While I puzzle over how I can kill something that doesn’t quite have a body of its own, I notice that the town has a spiritual medium called Zelda who owns a little store in town. I hurry on over, hoping to possess her and re-enact the pottery wheel scene from ‘Ghost’. Zelda agrees to read my fortune in her crystal ball, and (much to her own surprise) gives me some rather useful information, such as not to trust someone who believes only in good.
I decide to head into the local tavern, hoping to terrify some foolish mortals. To my surprise, I find that I have developed a few ghostly powers – I can pass through solid walls and I can conceal myself in shadow. Very nice. Anyway, inside the tavern is a ghost hunter who seems only to believe in the power of good, so I decide to avoid him and check out the local chapel instead. Surely that’s a bit more safe, eh?
Pushing through a ward of protection (which bloody well hurts and knocks my stamina really low), I encounter a ghost of an old paladin. He tells me that he can sense great evil in the land, and offers to help me if I can answer a puzzle for him. It’s a reworking of the old ‘a man was going to St Ives’ puzzle, and I get it right, for which the paladin teaches me how to use poultergeist skills to move objects with the power of my ghostly mind.
Without much else to do in town, I head to the Burgomaster’s house. The house, it seems is already haunted, and when I accidentally step on the cat, it wakes up the three ghosts who are already in residence. I manage to fend them both off and escape with only one stamina point remaining. By this point, the town has nothing to amuse me further, so I let myself be drawn back towards my family home in the castle overlooking the village.
Now, when I was alive, I was a noble and the guards would certainly have let me pass. But being that I’m currently not in possession of a body, I don’t think the guards would be too keen to see me strolling town the road to greet them. So instead I decide to crawl through the castle’s sewer to get into my old home. Sadly, the sewer is also home to a pack of giant skeletal rats. “Bite bite bite”, go the rats. And before you know it, I’m back in the land of the dead, staring at that portal to the hereafter once again.
This time, I am greeted by the grim reaper himself, in full black robes and scythe regalia. We discuss the philosophical meaning of justice and I debate the merits of having a second chance, and much to my amusement he does not ask to play chess. Or Cluedo, or Twister even. He decides to let me run around for a little while longer, because it will be a laugh for him. Yeah, nice to see that Death has a real sense of humour.
Anyway, I’m chucked back into the mortal world once again, and I’m in the main courtyard of the keep. I investigate the stables, only to find my own horse in one of the stalls. Curious. Could the death cultist who murdered me have brought the horse here? I manage to tame a spectral steed in the stables and go to the blacksmiths to investigate further. The keep’s blacksmith, a childhood friend, recognises me instantly. She tells me that there is indeed evil rooted here in my own family home.
I decide to make the most of my time by trying to see who else I can coax onto my side. I try the kennels first, and find my trusting hunting dog Korzen, who will follow me into battle. Trying the guard’s barracks, I encounter the captain of the guard, who (once I convince him that I’m who I say I am) tells me that a group of knights have been invited to stay in the keep by the chamberlain. They have forbidden my family’s guard to enter the keep proper, and my sister is imprisoned in the tall tower.
The barking of the dogs in the kennel alerts a pair of Spirit Hunters, trailing ghostly brains with tentacles (yeah, I’m not sure either) and I manage to kill them without too much hassle. I opt to sneak through the hidden tunnelways into the keep proper, and as I do, I find the dessicated husk of a truly giant spider. The narrowness of the tunnel means I have to step over it, and – oh crap it’s alive! Actually this spider is kinda unfair, because it’s brought back to life because I’m relatively healthy – if I’d been close to death, it’d have remained dead too. Anyway, it has a really, really nasty poison that serves to heal it whenever it bites me, and that’s enough to send me spinning back to that big ol’ gateway to the realm of the dead once again.
Sometimes, I wonder if stepping through this door would take me to 1920s Berlin.. sorry, that’s such an obscure reference, I doubt anyone’s going to get it. Anyway, this time the gateway gives a booming voice screaming that it will devour me and hurl my soul into the abyss, but the cries of a million souls who have deemed me the champion. I’m given one last codeword – Endgame. One more ‘death’ and that’s it, game over.
I don’t want to risk wasting any more time – I charge straight through this part of the castle and into the main drawbridge, eager to get to the final encounter as soon as possible. I hurry over the drawbridge, when something genuinely massive lumbers into view. It’s a giant iron golem that breathes fire. And… why is this a thing? What kind of insane megalomaniac castle-stealer me-murdering git builds a giant fire-breathing golem to guard his stolen castle? I mean…
My ability to hide inside shadows is almost no use here. I try my best to avoid its fire, and soon I’m able to dodge my way through, hurry over the drawbridge, and get to the large main entrance to the keep, only to find that it is painted over with large runes and scripts. It has been completely sealed against spirit beings like myself, and I don’t have the requisite powers to get through it. I’m sure that they were in the second part of the keep, which I ran right past in over-eagerness to get to the ending.
And there is no way to get in. So, I fail. I have nothing else I can do but to re-enact the sad ending to Warlock of Firetop Mountain – sit there and cry.
This is a very impressive book. The use of the recurring gate into the lands of death is a nice dramatic touch, and gives you a countdown of remaining ‘lives’. The book completely forgoes the idea of an inventory system in favour of code-words for everything, which gives it a more ‘puzzle’ feel to it. The atmosphere is very nice, with a lot of horror tropes and themes recurring throughout the adventure. There’s also a few rather nice touches, in that normal weapons don’t seem to hurt you, only magical or monsterous ones do – and it seems that pretty much everyone has one of those. Might want to borrow them for the next time I run into a Fighting Fantasy monster that can’t be injured by non-magical weapons, I think!
Cause of death: Sat at the door and cried.